The New York Times reports today that your brain needs downtime from all the digital devices that permeate our lives: television, smart phones, laptops, iPads, e-readers, video games, ad infinitum. Apparently, the “downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories.”
I don’t have scientific evidence to back this up, but in my gut I know it’s true. I have recently initiated a new habit when I spend 1-2 hours every afternoon doing yoga, cooking and/or reading physical books. I’ve found that this time away from screens helps me feel less stressed at the end of the day. I’ve also banned electronic devices from the bedroom because I think the screens may make insomnia even worse. I know I usually sleep worse when I work on my laptop late at night.
Whenever I go on vacation, I refrain from taking my laptop or other electronic devices with me. A week or a long weekend spent in exile from electronic devices is a real vacation, in my opinion.
Of course, not everyone may be able to handle the immersion in their own thoughts for any period of time, as this commenter on the NYT article points out:
This is exactly backward. The gadgets don’t interfere with mental functions. People who find mental work hard fill their time with external stimuli.
Portable radios and TVs, iPods and their imitators, cellphones, audio books, smartphones, and now tablet computers are bread and circuses, filling the voids in minds that can’t deal with complex abstractions or data that might undermine carefully constructed worlds.